Sunday, December 6, 2015

"The Day of the Lord": a sermon

“The Day of the Lord”
Year C Advent 2, Dec 6, 2015
St. Thomas’ Episcopal, Richmond, VA

Happy Feast Day of St. Nicholas.

Today, as we have heard from all our readings, the Lord is on his way. The Day of the Lord approaches. Be ready. We hear this again and again. Straighten what is crooked. Level what is out of whack. God is on the way.

And we cannot be willy-nilly about our arrangements. We cannot sweep things under the proverbial rug. We must be about the tasks that need to be done. There is no choice in this. We need to be ready, because we cannot claim that we did not know God was on the way.

When the troops of Catherine the Great of Russia defeated the Ukraine and the Crimea, she made her advisor and paramour Potemkin the governor. His job was to rebuild and resettle the warzone, and move in a population of peasants to inhabit the devastated countryside. Lacking time, resources and the ability to convince people to move into the previous warzone, he came up with a desperate plan. He and his entourage would put up a village that was all fronts, a theatrical set like on a Hollywood lot, and his men would pretend to be villagers through the imperial visit. They would tear it down, then the next day set it up downriver and do it all over again. Surprisingly it worked. Potemkin knew Catherine very well it seems.

Catherine may have been fooled, but God will not be. Setting up some Potemkin Village will not work. God will see through our facade.

Looking to the Gospel reading we are able to see the arrival of John the Baptist through two sets of lenses. He had come to announce the Day of the Lord, the Messiah’s arrival. Luke makes it abundantly clear when that was:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas...

All that being said, scholars are a to get this date to within a surprising accuracy two millennia later. The dating for this is near the end of what we call AD year 26 and the beginning of 28. We can safely say it was circa 27.

This the the chronological dating. When, in the course of events, something took place. Chronologies look very logical and exact from the outside, but actually they only convey what time and or date something took place. We see none of the set-up, none of the preparations, none of the aligning of events to make something transpire. The Bible has a phrase we use to see that side of things, and it is “the fullness of time” which is used a few times amongst the various Eucharistic prayers. I have spoken at length about this before so I won’t go into that.

But these varying views of time have special words in the Greek. One we still use. Chronos is the tick-tock of the clock. It is the sequential ordering of our minutes, hours and days. It is where we get the word chronological from in the first place. It is the idea that John came preaching with shouts of “Be ready” very close to the year 27. That is Chronos, the chronological dating.

But there is another Greek word for time, which we see here as well. Kairos is the view of time when everything comes together. Like at the end of great novel, when all the disparate strands are rewoven, and the cord of the story is strong and whole once again. As people of faith, we see this as when God has finished setting up the dominos and something wonderful is about to take place. This is the event in the view of the salvation history.  That starts with Adam’s fall, and moves through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, and continues to us today. John’s preaching was a strand of the salvation history. Kairos shows up in the passage in a simple phrase:

the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

When God stepped in and gave John his word, the time was right. All had been taken care of on the stage and behind the scenes. Kairos had broken through.

Kairos breaks through all the time, but we are limited in our ways of seeing it. I do tell a lot of stories about my kids, and I apologize in advance, but they teach me so much.

Earlier this week, my youngest asked me the date, and I responded, “December the first.” She then said, “Do you know what that means? SEVENTEEN days to STAR WARS. EIGHTEEN days to the Sunday School Christmas Party [Thanks Emma!] and TWENTY days till we go to Busch Gardens!” You see, she was naming the Chronos till what she saw as a season of Kairos.

I then asked her, “Well, what about Christmas and your birthday the next day?” Her response, “Well, yeah!”

She was establishing in her mind the Chronos, so she could prepare for a magical season for her that was beyond coincidence. She saw in it a reason and purpose. Her joy was the reason, and all this had aligned into three events just three days apart. When you are 8 that counts as miraculous.

We have a choice about our Chronos, and we have a choice about how we prepare for Kairos. That is the message of John. Ready yourself, while you have the time, for Kairos is about to break through! That was the message of John in the first century, and it is his proclamation to us today. We announce it in some way almost every Sunday in our Eucharistic prayer, Christ will come again. How are you shaping your now for that then?

I think on Jesus’ parable of the bridesmaids who has to keep their lamps lit, readying themselves for the coming of the bridegroom. Some were ready and were invited in. Some were not and there was weeping, and gnashing of teeth.

I love that Luke gives the longer version of the Isaiah quote that John preaches. It is a reminder that he is proclaiming that the long-awaited prophecy is right here, right now. But even more, in Luke he shares the outcome of the Day of the Lord.

"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

Why are we reshaping our Chronos? Why are we looking at our crooked ways and straightening out our lives? Simple. We can do it. Or it will be done for us. You and I both know that it will be much more responsible and probably much less painful if we do it ourselves. And think about it, we are being invited to join in the very work of God. Raising up the Low. Bringing down the High. Straightening the Crooked. And before you start thinking I am speaking of anyone else, most of the great teachers remind us that we have enough of the lowly and the high and the crooked within ourselves that we certainly can start there before going on to anyone else.

But why? What is the reason that we just do not wallow in the now. It is not “Jesus is coming, look busy!” but rather that last line quoted from Isaiah.


Even our own.

From our collect today we are reminded of why there are prophets and why there is Kairos. It all comes back to our need of God’s endless Grace:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer…

We are given each day as a gift. How will we use it? I love this season. I love all the special events, and all the joy. I love all the carols and hymns. The cliche is that Jesus is the Reason for the Season. I would counter that. We are the Reason for the Season. The Season, Advent, is here for us to ready ourselves for when Kairos breaks through. We can so easily get caught up in the Chronos we forget the mystery and wonder and joy that can be found in the thought that so much had to transpire to bring us to today.

When I do weddings, I try to work out the Chronos pretty strictly. At 2 minutes till the groom’s mother is seated. At one minute till the bride’s mother is seated. At the hour, I walk out with the groom and the groomsmen. That is the cue for the coordinator to open the door and the procession begins. All the Chronos in the world can be planned and implemented but if the bride or the groom are not there, it is all moot. I make sure that everyone is in place, and then the wedding can happen. Kairos comes when all is set.

God is wanting to break through in all our lives. God is wanting to arrive. In our Chronos, are we preparing the way of the Lord with what we say, in what we do, in who we are? If so, hold your breath. The Lord is coming! If not, start today. Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight God’s path. Kairos is coming. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock